To be a good patient

Dr Ajay Shetty, March 19, 2016, DHNS


Have you ever come out of the doctor’s office feeling more confused and frustrated than when you got in? There was so much more you wanted to share but could not. If the answer is yes, then rest assured, you are not alone.

Unfortunately, this experience is not uncommon, considering the time constraints of the medical practitioner.

Read on to find simple tips, which can help you make the most of your doctor’s visit and thereby positively influence the quality of your care.

Know thyself

Every doctor relies on you for information about your health. What you say and how you say it will positively impact diagnostic accuracy. Therefore, it is imperative that you are completely up-to-date with your medical history. For instance, when asked questions like  ‘Which side did you have pain the last time?’ or ‘Are you allergic to any medications?’ and your response is ‘I’m not sure’, you would not be helping your cause.

Be on time

This holds true when you have a time slot or appointment to see your doctor. If it is your first visit, it is always best to be there at least 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled appointment time. This helps you to complete the necessary paperwork and be prepared factually and mentally for your consultation. You could spend this time going over your most important concerns that need to be addressed.

Prepare a bucket list

This list should include your main symptoms, preferably in a chronological order. Also include specific concerns or questions that you would like to discuss. If there are many, list them out in a book as it is best not to rely on memory. Because at most times, discussions may go astray if such facts are forgotten. This, in turn, can lead  to frustration and dissatisfaction after the visit.

Be well-informed

It is always good to be well-informed about your medical condition. Information regarding most medical conditions is easily available on the Internet, magazines, health information booklets etc. But the important thing with this information overload is to discern the relevant from the irrelevant. Your conversation with the doctor should facilitate your understanding of the disease process and clarification of all the myths and misconceptions.

Maintain a health journal

This journal should include all your pertinent documents, which will facilitate the physician’s understanding of your medical condition. The documents could be discharge summaries of your previous hospital admissions, prescription of all your current medications, latest investigation reports (laboratory and radiology), and documents concerning any surgery undergone in the past with corresponding biopsy reports. A physician shouldn’t have to waste precious minutes of consultation time scrutinising stacks of irrelevant documents to locate the one thing that he needs. Medical bills, old prescription forms, dated executive health check-up reports, insurance records are best filed away separately.

Develop a partnership

How well you and your doctor talk to each other is one of the most important aspects  of getting good healthcare. Unfortunately, talking with your doctor isn’t always easy. In the past, the doctor typically took the lead and the patient followed. Today, a good patient-doctor relationship is a partnership. You and your doctor should work as a team.

Be open and honest

It is best to be open and honest with you doctor about information disclosure. Particularly, when it comes to habits that affect your mental and physical health. For instance, the number of cigarettes you smoke, amount of alcohol consumed, any life changes that may have occurred since the last visit — like a loved one’s death or lose of a job. All this information helps your doctor better understand your illness from your perspective and therefore, work out the best treatment choices for you.

When you don’t understand…

Do not hesitate to use the words ‘I don’t understand’ when you are not clear about what has been explained. Most times we end up nodding our heads to everything that is spoken, even when confused. Most times, patients may feel embarrassed or apprehensive about sounding impolite. Also, time constraints may cause the doctor to move on to another point of discussion. But it is best not to feel embarrassed about asking for clarification.

Doctors would prefer that you understand everything that was discussed in the manner that it was intended, so that there is no room for misconceptions. A good technique is to paraphrase what your doctor has told you and ask if it is right.  At the end of the conversation with your doctor, you must leave the room with the following questions answered:

What is my diagnosis?
Have I understood my illness?
What do I need to do?
Am I clear about the treatment proposed?
Why is it important for me to do this?

Your doctor’s visit does not have to be an event on your calendar that you do no look forward to. Make the most out of your doctor’s visit by remembering the three P’s — preparation, participation and partnership. Practise this and you will find the experience gratifying; leave the consultation room feeling empowered. After all, that is what a doctor-patient relationship should be all about.

(The author is consultant — urology & andrology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru)

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